Update: April 16, 2021. Jon pleaded guilty to two counts, and the prosecution has agreed to ask for a prison term of anywhere between 3.5 and 4.5 years of imprisonment. The press release from the DOJ can be read here.
The storming of the US Capitol, which sought to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election, was an attack against American democracy. Fueled by fringe conspiracy theories, and encouraged by the lies of their president, those involved in the riots were convinced that the elections had been stolen, that Trump was their champion, and that they were on a mission to save America from (depending on who you ask) George Soros, globalists, Bill Gates, China, communism, and/or even Satan himself. And although some of the coverage of the riots has exaggerated their significance for political purposes, the fact remains that it was a shameful day for America.
As soon as it became known that Jon Schaffer, the founder and guitarist of Iced Earth, had participated in the riots, the media churned out many articles and videos about him. Sadly, most of this coverage has been inept, and hasn’t offered any useful information about Schaffer’s ideological radicalization. This is a huge wasted opportunity since, unlike most of the other rioters, Schaffer has left a very extensive and public record of his ideology, and which allows us to see why he ended up at the Capitol, fighting to keep a defeated candidate in power.
It was with the goal of understanding how someone like Schaffer could fall for Trump’s lies about the election that I spent the last two months speaking with people who are close to him, and reading and listening to virtually every interview he ever gave. This gave me an understanding of Jon that, although not necessarily flattering, is at least realistic. It shows that Schaffer participated in the riots while fully convinced of the righteousness of his cause, thinking that he was acting for the greater good of his country. He had spent over a decade fully immersed in a world of conspiracy theories, and he was certain that America was in a life-or-death struggle against a diabolical and invisible enemy. In many occasions, both in the press, as well as to people who knew him, Jon made it clear that he was willing to fight and die for his cause, although everyone thought he was just bluffing.
Though it might be tempting (and SEO-friendly) to make headlines about “Nazism” and “white supremacy” when writing about Schaffer, to assume that he was at the Capitol because of such ideas, misses the point entirely. While the evidence certainly shows that some white supremacist groups participated in the riots, the fact remains that there were many (like Schaffer) who were there for no other reason than their sincere (and absolutely wrong) belief that the election had been stolen. That fact alone, even without Nazism thrown into the mix, is what should really concern us. That so many people could be convinced of this lie is not only about the gullibility of the rioters. Instead, it is also an indictment of a mainstream media in which people trusted so little, that falsehoods were able to spread to this level. While the “stop the steal” crowd might be gone, disinformation will remain a very serious threat unless the American media can regain the people’s trust.
That this time it was Trump and his cronies who peddled lies to get their supporters riled up should not give a false sense of security to his opponents. Indeed, both sides of the political spectrum are just as likely to fall for conspiracy theories and for disinformation. After all, and despite the complete lack of evidence, many Americans still believe that Russia hacked voting machines in 2016, and that Trump colluded with Russia. Just like Schaffer found himself in echo chambers that confirmed his ideas, many others, regardless of ideology, are in that same situation, and just haven’t had the right excuse for a riot yet.
“Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”, Voltaire said. When we accept the kind of all-encompassing Wagnerian narratives that come from conspiracy theories, or succumb to supernatural thinking, we give up what is perhaps the most essential part of our humanity: Our ability to rationally and critically try to understand the world around us. And though Jon would certainly consider himself a “free thinker”, just by virtue of following his gut and supporting unpopular ideas, there can be no “free thinking” without critical thinking. Jon didn’t think; he just believed.
Before he found a home in the political fringes, Schaffer was just a garden-variety conservative. In fact, back in 2004, when Iced Earth released The Glorious Burden, an ultra-patriotic album that received renewed interest after the Capitol riots, he would have been virtually indistinguishable from any mainstream supporter of then-President Bush. He was convinced that America was doing the right thing with the War on Terror, and openly and proudly supported Bush and his illegal invasion of Iraq.
The international opposition to the Iraq war enraged Jon, who felt that it was coming from ungrateful nations that failed to see the good of America. In his eyes, his country was a force for good in the world, and nation-building was just the American way of bringing democracy to the masses. He was swept up in the jingoistic fervor of the time, and would often parrot the government’s (or Fox News’) talking points. Like most Americans, he believed that the 9/11 terrorist had attacked because they “hate our freedom“, and nothing more.
In a now infamous 2004 interview, he became agitated at the suggestion that the US was imperialistic (he called that “bullshit fuckin’ socialist language“), or that the war in Iraq was wrong (he said that most Iraqis were “thrilled to have us there“). When the interviewer implied that Bush was an authoritarian, Jon threatened to end the interview. He had no time for those who, in his eyes, hated America.
This was the mindset Schaffer had when he wrote songs like “When the Eagle Cries” and “The Reckoning (Don’t Tread on Me)”, the sappy patriotic songs featured in The Glorious Burden. Though some people have seen this jingoism as perhaps an early indication of his actions at the riots, this is a misunderstanding. For better or worse, from an ideological perspective, the person who wrote those songs couldn’t be farther from the one at the Capitol.
Jon had his own Road to Damascus during a 2009 family vacation to Central America. The financial crisis had made him disillusioned with politics, and he started to immerse himself in the world of conspiracy theories. He was captivated by The Creature from Jekyll Island, a discredited book about the Federal Reserve, written by G. Edward Griffin (who also believes in chemtrails, denies the existence of HIV/AIDS, and claims that Noah’s Ark is fossilized somewhere in Turkey). The book blamed the Federal Reserve for most of the problems in the modern world, arguing that it was dark and diabolical organization, designed and controlled by an evil cabal of totalitarian warmongers.
“I felt so much better knowing why everything is so screwed up,” Jon recalled years later. He was fascinated by the book’s narrative, and fully embraced the idea that They were to blame for everything. Looking for more information, he watched “documentaries” like Zeitgeist; America: From Freedom to Fascism; and Alex Jones’ Endgame. What they all had in common was that they all blamed the same amorphous and dark enemy for everything. War, terrorism, crime, poverty, inequality, were all their fault. Ordinary people were just cattle, and those who were aware of the deception had a duty to save the rest of us. Jon was immediately hooked.
As eye-opening as it felt, Jon’s “awakening” was also very painful. He broke down and cried, feeling that everything he had believed in was a lie. He no longer saw 9/11 as a terrorist attack, but as a false-flag operation that They had carried out against America. It had all been designed to expand the control that They had on the world. Even the Civil War, which had always fascinated him, wasn’t what it seemed. He now believed that the whole thing had been about the imperialistic desires of the North, controlled by “the banks“, and nothing to do with slavery (a demonstrably false claim made in The Creature from Jekyll Island, and which Jon accepted as gospel).
Despite being a native of Indiana (which was not part of the Confederacy), Jon now wore a bandana with the Confederate flag to show his commitment to that cause. The Confederacy had “fought with everything they had” against Them and their evil plans for America, he recalled years later; “that’s why I wear the Rebel Flag.”
Like all new converts, Jon wanted to tell the world about his new faith, and hoped to use his music to “awaken” others. He started Sons of Liberty, a solo project he hoped would “wake people up” and get them to “start researching“. Hoping to reach a large audience, he got in touch with InfoWars, a site that had been instrumental in shaping his new faith. In late 2009 he flew to Texas to release his debut, Brush-fires of the Mind, on the Alex Jones’ show.
Alex Jones‘ shtick is simple. He caters to a paranoid and insecure audience, constantly bombarding them with information about the many threats that They are unleashing upon the world. Among many other lies, he has claimed that 9/11 was an inside job (it wasn’t), that the Sandy Hook School massacre was a staged, false-flag operation (it wasn’t), and that vaccines cause autism (they don’t). He constantly reminds his viewers of the threat of “chemicals” and “radiation waves” that are turning them gay, or giving them cancer, and how, conveniently, he happens to be selling just the right product to prevent that. The gullibility and fear of his audience have made him a very wealthy man, despite not having any real commitment to the lies he peddles. After all, as his attorneys conceded during a recent custody battle, he is simply “a performance artist” that is just “playing a character“.
Schaffer’s interview with Alex Jones was a sad spectacle. From the beginning it was evident that Jones had never heard of Jon or his bands, and that he had not even cared enough to look them up. Of course, he was happy to use Jon as a prop to peddle his quackery, but not enough to actually put any effort. He thought that Jon was the singer of Iced Earth, and even doubled down on it when Jon meekly tried to correct him. Jones kept calling the album by the wrong name, and used every answer to go into a self-promoting monologue, or to casually lie (like by claiming that Jon had to make the album independently because no record label would let him do it). He eventually gave Jon an awkward handshake and welcomed him to the world of “the awakened.” For conspiracy theorists everywhere, Jon now had the blessing of the Pope himself.
Named after a revolutionary organization in colonial America, Sons of Liberty was an outspokenly political project. In the rare occasions when the songs were not absolutely explicit about their meaning (“Jekyll Island”, for example, featured Jon yelling “End the Fed!” over and over), Jon resorted to metaphors that had the subtlety of a car crash. What mattered to him was to get the message out. He made the album available online for free, and made the band’s website into a repository of everything anyone could ever need if they were willing to “do the research”. Filled with links to Alex Jones’ “documentaries”, 9/11 truther films, climate-change denial, and the Oath Keepers, the website exhorted readers to “[e]mbrace the truth, regardless of how disturbing it may be”, and to trust their “gut instinct” (an approach to fact-checking that might explain why virtually all the quotes Schaffer included in the physical copies of his album were either wrong or mistaken).
He recorded a video for the song “We the People“, singing about what he thought was the looming threat of a “World Order dictatorship“. Recorded at a show at the House of Blues in Chicago (where Sons of Liberty opened for Iced Earth), the video combined live footage with shots of Jon and a few others marching at a tea party rally while carrying Sons of Liberty flags. It also included some truly bizarre artwork sprinkled throughout, most of which (though not all) was the work of David Dees, a former Sesame Street artist who found some modicum of fame by believing in every conspiracy theory ever. From the anti-Semitic fraud of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, to 5G conspiracies, climate change denial, anti GMO quackery, Sandy Hook denial, or the belief that Harry Potter lures children to the occult and away from Christ, David Dees never saw a conspiracy that he wasn’t willing to buy into. Jon liked his work so much that he even used some of it in a special deluxe edition of Brush-fires of the Mind, released by Century Media.
Jon had a large audience at his disposal, and plenty of people willing to help him reach it. In fact, Century Media, the same record label that, years later, would go out of its way to distance itself from him, was very supportive of the Sons of Liberty project, explaining in a press release that Jon had “a bone to pick with the global banking institutions that have hijacked government and economic policy.” In the same vein, MetalSucks helped promote the album, hosting the premiere of “Jekyll Island”, praising Jon for “raising awareness about and rebelling against the Federal Reserve system that controls our world’s economy“. Rock Hard (Germany) eventually did something similar, publishing a glowing profile of the Sons of Liberty Project, even including quotes against the Federal Reserve that a simple Google search would have shown were made-up. Jon saw this as a public vindication of his views, and felt that they reaffirmed his position.
Jon was very explicit about what his cause was, and what he thought was at stake. He gave interviews discussing his fear of a supposed “de-population agenda” that They had for the world (They want to kill 90% of us, he explained), and praising Alex Jones as “a true patriot” that had opened his eyes to the nonsense he now believed in. He was soon giving interviews saying that America had turned into a police state, and that martial law was already in force (or just around the corner). “It’s time for a revolution“, he explained.
My first interview with Jon was back in 2012, and we devoted the whole thing to Sons of Liberty. Though I had just found about the existence of this project, I was really interested in what looked like a huge change in his opinions about his own country. “You don’t want to believe that the people in power are the worst people imaginable; you don’t want think that your government is made up of a bunch of gangster criminals”, he explained somberly. They controlled the government. “It’s a big banking cartel” he rambled on, “it’s Goldman Sachs, it’s Deutsche Bank, it’s a lot of European oligarchs and royals that have interbred and own the system. They’ve controlled America for a long time and they still give us the illusion that we’re free and that we’re independent, but we’re not.”
He warned that They had “a very disturbing agenda for the future of humanity”, and that as long the Federal Government was there, controlled by Them, nobody was safe. “Just fuck it”, he said. “Let it collapse”.
Jon’s outspokenness about Federal Reserve conspiracies, coupled with his relative fame, opened some doors in the political fringes. He attracted the attention of Pasha Roberts, the writer and director of the low-budget animated film Silver Circle, who invited him to do a cameo and to contribute some of Sons of Liberty’s music for the soundtrack. The film, set in the then-future of 2019, presented the Federal Reserve system not just as a bad economic policy, but as an authoritarian entity with its own jackbooted security forces. This kind of fearmongering fit perfectly with Jon’s ideology and paranoia, even featuring freedom-fighters that also minted their own (non-fiat!) currency out of silver. In Jon’s brief cameo, he plays an author trying to teach people about the importance of the gold standard while yelling about the Fed. The film’s dreadful animation would even be used in the music video for Sons of Liberty’s “Spirit of the Times“, which finally gave Jon the chance to see the Federal Reserve get blown up.
He was very enthusiastic about his participation in the film, gave several interviews about it, and even went to the New York Comic-Con to promote it. He was eager to spread the message, feeling that America was at the edge of the precipice. If the Founding Fathers could see what had happened to the country, he told a reporter, “they would have been shooting a long time ago”.
Though he always boasted about how, unlike the rest of us, he could read between the lines, and tell truth from fiction, Jon’s confidence was misplaced. He quickly became trapped in an echo chamber, refusing to believe anything the mainstream media or the government had to say, trusting only and exclusively in the questionable sources that confirmed his ideology. Instead of being skeptical about the news or the government, he now knew that they were lying. He didn’t need to hear what they had to say anymore.
Exposing himself only to ideas that fit his own narrative, and which blamed Them for the world’s problems, Jon’s paranoia increased. He thought that the They saw him as an enemy, even suggesting that problems with the Sons of Liberty website were the result of deliberate sabotage, since They wanted to keep him quiet. When he and I met again, and I told him about some unhinged comments accusing me of engaging in Psy-Ops left by people who disliked my dismissal of conspiracy theories, he thought that maybe the comments themselves were the Psy-Ops. They were trying to make people like him sound crazy, he explained.
I asked Jon about the Boston Marathon bombings, and whether he believed, like Alex Jones, that they had been a false-flag operation by the US Government. Jon thought that there was a real possibility that it was (it wasn’t), just like 9/11 (which also wasn’t an inside job). He dismissed the claim that he was a “conspiracy theorist” since, as he explained, these were “conspiracy facts”. Unlike his critics, he had actually done the research, knew the history, and had “studied the facts“. It wasn’t that he was wrong or misinformed; everybody else was.
He increasingly felt that everything he had talked about in Sons of Liberty was coming true, and that it was only a matter of time before a reckoning took place. In this fantasy of the American Götterdämerung, he imagined 5 million people marching into Washington and arresting politicians.
“These people will never give up power, so I’m afraid it’s gonna have to come down to a mass movement where people, The People, literally rise up and go in and physically remove these scumbags from power.“
Jon didn’t vote in the 2016 elections. He trusted in neither Republicans nor Democrats, and couldn’t bring himself to support their candidates. Still, he hated Hillary Clinton, and had feared that she would start World War III if she was elected. Though he was happy about her defeat, he also believed in the discredited claim that 3 million undocumented immigrants had voted, and that this was how Clinton had won the popular vote. The fact that They had lost the election had made him “cautiously optimistic“ about the future, thinking that people were finally “waking up”. If nothing else, he explained, unlike Obama, Clinton, and the Bush family, at least Trump wasn’t a puppet for “the shadow government”.
To say that Donald Trump and his 2016 victory “upset” the establishment would be a huge understatement. He was hated by the Republican and the Democratic centers of power, and was even opposed by the intelligence and national security services. Despite being woefully unfit for the Presidency, he had risen to power by channeling the anger of huge swaths of the American population who felt that they were being left behind. And while it is undeniable that his openly xenophobic rhetoric also attracted truly despicable supporters, he also served as a protest vote for those who felt nothing but scorn for the establishment. “Trump 2016: Because FUCK YOU.”
We can get a glimpse of where Jon was getting his ideas based on the media that he was consuming at time. The liner notes of his albums routinely included the pundits that Jon was paying attention to. In addition to Alex Jones, who he had mentioned in everything he released since 2008, his 2017 album Incorruptible now also added some more conspiracy peddlers to the list, of the likes of Paul Joseph Watson and Greg Hunter. They were all part of the “alternative” media ecosystem that had been reinvigorated with Trump‘s candidacy, and whose very existence was due to their viewers’ paranoia about “the elites“. They portrayed the establishment’s opposition to Trump as a David against Goliath battle in which, somehow, the lying, billionaire, degenerate was, in reality, a selfless man of the people, sent from heaven to fight “the deep state”.
Despite its prominence in conspiracy theories, and unlike the Illuminati, the “deep state” actually exists. It represents the intelligence agencies, the security apparatus, and the civil bureaucracy that effectively runs a significant part of the government, regardless of who’s in power. Trump used the term in a much looser sense, using it to refer to anybody who opposed him; this allowed conspiracy peddlers to build the concept as just another manifestation of “the evil cabal.” As such a loose concept, the “deep state” allowed for anything to be included within it, from the CIA, to satanic cults of pizza-eating pedophiles. In fact, Trump’s popularity with the deluded death-cult of QAnon owes a lot to the fact that they interpreted his ramblings about the “deep state” as coded language for a supposed holy war against Satanic pedophiles.
There’s no evidence that Jon was a follower of QAnon, and conversations with people close to him have not revealed any indication to the contrary. Though he might have avoided the allure of that conspiracy, however, Jon still saw the cabal as an enemy of truly demonic proportions. In fact, he was convinced that They were behind many of the school shootings happening in America, which he saw as false-flag operations designed to bring about gun control. There were no victims, only “crisis actors” pretending to be grieving parents. By 2018 he was warning others about how “the powers that be” were preparing for the total enslavement of America, and that They were first coming for their guns.
Firearms had been a part of Schaffer’s life since his childhood. His dad (“a John Birch kind of guy“) gave him his first gun when he was seven years old, and he saw them as just a normal part of life. Though he had never been in the military, Jon was involved with the militia movement, and felt that this was his own way of “serving“. Many of his friends were in the armed forces, and he tried to compensate for his chicken-hawkness for civil war by cosplaying with the militia. He was especially interested in the Oath Keepers, a group mostly made up of former members of the armed forces.
Started in 2009 as a supposedly libertarian organization by soldier-turned-lawyer-turned-militiaman Steward Rhodes, the group encouraged its members to follow their oaths, disobey any order that (they personally thought) violated the Constitution and, if necessary, to fight anybody who issued those orders. The group was very vocal about the supposed threat of the New World Order, sweeping gun control, martial law, and a possible invasion by the United Nations. Jon had become enamored with the group from the time of its founding, and had even mentioned them (or their founder) in all of his post-awakening releases.
Jon’s fixation with the Oath Keepers was in line with his paranoia about the Federal Government. The organization had relied heavily on Federal Reserve and New World Order conspiracies to recruit followers, and that narrative had worked wonders when it came to Jon. The group constantly echoed the concerns of Alex Jones (with whom Rhodes worked so closely that they became good friends) and warned about how They would soon try to impose a dictatorship. Jon thought that the militia might be America’s last hope to stop this from happening.
In early 2020, Jon could not have looked less like the man who stormed the Capitol a year later. He was slick and well-groomed, practicing meditation, and hoping to take back painting. He had recently gone on a spiritual journey hiking in Arizona, trying to connect to “source energy” and, if given a chance, he even loved to regurgitate “law of attraction” nonsense about the importance of manifesting your own reality. Though he didn’t like organized religion, he had always believed in “a higher power,” considered himself to be “spiritual”, and had completely bought into anti-vaccine quackery and anti-GMO pseudoscience. In recent years he had become fascinated with some elements of Native American culture, and his reiki “therapist” had told him that he had a lot of “raven energy” around him. He wore a necklace with a totem of the raven as evidence of this. In sum, despite his bravado, Jon sounded just like a Yoga mom.
But then the pandemic struck with full force, and everything changed.
It seems to be that Jon believed in the existence of COVID19, but thought that it was being exaggerated and exploited by those in control. He saw the government’s response to the virus as just the execution of a carefully orchestrated plan by the cabal. “This event is gonna wake some people up“, he told his fans in April, explaining that lockdowns and similar responses were not about the virus, but about deception and control. In fact, he was so sure that something much darker was happening that, depending on how things went, he was thinking about going off the grid and disappearing into the mountains.
He called it a “plandemic“, a plan for global enslavement orchestrated at the highest levels, and which merely exploited COVID19. He thought that the disease was just an excuse, and that every anti-COVID measure was getting us closer and closer to global enslavement. He imagined that They were using the pandemic to hide the collapse of the system, and that “currency resets” were coming. “There’s an agenda, and it’s not good“, he explained. He was giddy at the idea of being proven right by the downfall he had envisioned for so long, and reminded everyone that he had been preparing for this for a long time.
The pandemic was (and remains) like a perfect storm for conspiracy theories. All of us, no matter what our beliefs are, can find something about it to trigger our paranoia. Be it the American Government, Big Pharma, China, Communism, vaccinations, the UN, or the lockdowns, COVID19 had all the ingredients necessary to concoct a conspiratorial narrative. Outlets like Infowars, which were already full of stories about secret cabals and their evil plans, were now able to profit from the uncertainty created by the pandemic, peddling more and more unhinged conspiracies. With mainstream media suffering from historically low rates of trust from the public, with only politicians being trusted less, it’s easy to see how fear lead people to seek answers in alternative (and often false) sources.
The situation was made worse by the constant pissing contest in which Trump and the mainstream media spent his entire presidency. The media had profited tremendously from portraying Trump’s incompetent-yet-unremarkable presidency as a fascist dictatorship, and covered most of his actions as demonstrations of evil, instead of just incompetence or negligence. This extended to the pandemic, where Trump’s desire to play down the threat resulted in the media championing whatever drastic measure were proposed against COVID19.
The narrative of the pandemic artificially divided people into two groups: those who accepted every measure because they were intelligent and cared about others; and those who were stupid science-denying fascists who were happy to see people die. There was no nuance for people who were not privileged enough to afford to stop working, or who had serious concerns about the real human costs of closing down large segments of the economy. Instead, it was only about who was a “good” American, and who was a “bad” one. While this excessive zeal could be understood as just a desire to err on the side of caution, the summer protests made it very clear that the pandemic was also being exploited politically. Once the BLM protests started, all of them with a demonstrable (and often understandable) anti-Trump message, the same media that had told people to stay home, away from everyone, and which had portrayed gatherings as something done by cruel, unthinking murderers, was now defending and exalting these huge mass gatherings.
This is not about whether the BLM protests were good or bad from a moral point of view, or about whether their cause was just. The issue is that, regardless of what we might think about the protests, for those who had doubts about how serious COVID19 actually was, the credibility of the media was hurt when they changed the narrative overnight. Not even the fact that COVID19 disproportionately affected communities of color was accepted as an arguments. All of this made the pandemic look political instead of medical and, for people like Schaffer, who saw COVID as just “psychological warfare“, it confirmed their beliefs.
As the year went on, and it became clear that the pandemic would be around for a long time, Jon seems to have resigned himself to let Iced Earth die, believing that They were going to “make their move”. Though no vaccines had been released yet, he had already decided that he was not going to get vaccinated, even if that became a requirement to travel internationally. Following his lead, at least two more people in the band also decided against getting a vaccine. Being forced to get vaccinated was a “line in the sand” for Schaffer. He thought that the vaccine was really a way for the globalists to kill millions, as part of their “eugenicist” goal of was planetary depopulation. The future seemed bleak.
Despite the apparent allegiance he’d eventually feel for Donald Trump, Jon had no love for Republicans. Like Democrats, he considered them all to be “feckless traitors“, and didn’t want to have anything to do with them. He didn’t trust them to protect America from the “full spectrum dominance” that the globalists were unleashing on the country. He did not support the Republican incumbent Governor in the Indiana elections (he thought that he was a “communist”), and threw his support behind Donald Rainwater, the libertarian candidate. In his video endorsing Rainwater, Jon laid out his fears about the new world order. “All of this has been about power and control over you”, he said. Whether it was vaccines, GMOs, pollution, or masks, everything was part of their plan. “It’s time we wake up to the fact that if we stay on this path, We The People lose.”
It’s not clear when it was that Jon started to support Trump and to believe that he was truly a victim of the cabal. What we do know is that, after Trump’s defeat in November 2020, Jon was convinced that They had stolen the election. He thought that it was a coup, hidden in plain sight, and that They were going to impose an illegitimate government on the American people. This had been Jon’s first presidential election in a long time (by principle he refused to participate in federal elections) and it’s clear that he took Trump’s defeat personally.
About a week after the election, on November 14, Jon was in Washington at the “Million MAGA March”, marching alongside thousands of fellow Trump supporters who also shared his deluded view of the election. Wearing a 2nd Amendment hat with a skull and cross-guns (in case anybody had doubts about his positions on gun control) and a tacky vest with Trump as the Terminator, Jon was a far cry from from the once “apolitical” man who used to brag about his independence saying “you can’t put your hopes into one president, or one person.”
When a German journalist approached him, Jon made no attempt to hide who he was, or to lie about why he was there. He had always been proud of his outspokenness, about how he didn’t care if people hated him, and this time would be no exception. “My name is Jon Schaffer. I’m from Indiana” he said to the camera while marching alongside his fellow believers. “A group of thugs and criminals hijacked this country a long time ago”, he rambled on. “These are globalists. These are the scum of the earth. These are the criminals that are behind all the fraudulent fiat currency, they’re behind all the wars, they’re behind all the shit.” He seemed angry, and kept pointing at the camera, as if They themselves were watching him. “Now we see you. And you’re going down. Mark my words”
Jon was there for one reason, and one reason only: to fight for Trump. He saw him as the victim of the cabal, someone who had dared to stand up to Them, and who was now facing their wrath. The election had been an “open fraud“, he thought, designed to bring about a one-world government, based on a “globalist, communist system”. He claimed that he didn’t want any violence (a point somewhat undercut by his pro-gun paraphernalia), but made it clear that they were all willing and ready to face any attacks. In his mind, the future of America was at stake, and They could not be allowed to win. “There will be a lot of bloodshed, if it comes down to that,” he warned. “Nobody wants this, but they’re pushing us to a point where we have no choice.”
The following week, in what would end up being his final interview before the Capitol, Jon appeared at a libertarian podcast hosted by Tom Woods, a sometimes-controversial conservative writer. Jon was furious about what was happening in the country, thinking that it was all part of the cabal’s playbook to enslave and humiliate the American people. To him, masks were a symbol of control, of being “muzzled” by Them. “I refuse to wear a diaper on my face” he explained. He thought that it was all part of a very dark agenda involving the World Economic Forum, communism, globalists, euthanasia, mind control, and eugenics. “It’s slave training”, he warned, reiterating that he was not going to accept any vaccines, even if it meant the death of Iced Earth. He quoted Michael Badnarik‘s infamous and unhinged statement about vaccines: “You bring the syringe, I’ll bring my .45, and we’ll see who makes the bigger hole”
Jon didn’t mince any words when it came to describing what had happened at the election. They had turned the country into a banana republic. The “international bankers” and the “feckless traitors” politicians had all conspired to make it happen, but They hadn’t counted on the the American spirit. “The People are waking up”, he explained, and maybe this crisis would push them to act. He was worried the “patriots“, the people who thought like him, would soon be forced to resort to violence. He saw himself as somewhat of a martyr, thinking that the rest of America were just a bunch of “dum-dums”, who lacked the kind of deep understanding that he had about Them. Nevertheless, he was willing to put himself on the line for The People. “I will make whatever sacrifices are necessary to fight for my freedom and for those who don’t even understand what we’re up against”.
They had made their final move, and it was time to rise up.
Jon’s presence at the Capitol riots became an international sensation almost immediately, with his face featuring prominently in one of the most famous photos of the event. Pointing his finger towards the camera, Jon was unmistakable, and many people contacted the police to report his identity.
Though he was wearing his Oath Keepers’ hat (which he has owned for many years), Jon doesn’t seem to have been there as part of the infamous group of 9 Oath Keepers who marched in “stack” formation, and who were dressed in body armor and combat fatigues. This is not to excuse him, however, since his support for the Oath Keepers (which by January 6th had openly advocated the establishment of a Trump dictatorship) is really inexcusable. After all, Jon was lending his support to a group that was trying keep in power a candidate who lost an election, while also pushing for the imposition of Martial Law, one of the very measures the Oath Keepers were formed to never enforce against the American People.
We can get a glimpse of Jon’s actions at the Capitol from some of the CCTV footage that was made available at Trump’s second impeachment trial. With his blue hoodie and long white hair, he is unmistakable. The footage, recorded about 20 minutes after the Capitol building was first breached, showed Jon and about 10 other rioters charging at the Capitol Police, forcing them to retreat. As the police tried to pull back, one the rioters is seen grabbing a retreating officer, while another one punches him. As this happened, Jon marched along with them, making no attempt to stop the assault.
An affidavit filed by the FBI alleged that Jon carried a can of bear mace into the Capitol, and that he was “among the rioters” who sprayed the Capitol Police (it is unclear whether he is accused of actually spraying the police, or only of being part of the group who did). The CCTV footage from the riots shows that Jon was indeed carrying something on his waist, and photos included in the affidavit show him holding what looks like the can of a popular brand of bear mace. Though Schaffer’s attorney has since conceded that Jon was carrying pepper spray, saying that it was only for personal protection, there appears to be no explanation as to why he took it out of its holster, while at the Capitol.
In an interview he gave in 2016, just weeks after Trump’s election, Jon said that it would take “a complete movement of the people to take the criminals out of congress”. Now, 4 years later, he had a chance to put that in practice. Deceived by a liar, blinded by unhinged conspiracy theories, Jon finally got his revolution.
While the riots were criticized all over the world, nowhere was the criticism more visceral than in the United States. Those who already opposed Trump were happy to exploit them, exaggerate their magnitude, and even compare them to everything from Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks, to Kristallnacht. The rioters themselves were quickly portrayed as no better than enemy troops or, worse, terrorists. They were nothing but “traitors” and “insurrectionists”, and there were even those who publicly fantasized about seeing them all hanged.
Despite telling his followers that he had won the election, and that Biden would be an illegitimate president (something he maintains to this day), Trump condemned the actions of his rioting supporters as soon as he realized that there wasn’t enough support to do anything else. By the following day he had already conceded to Joe Biden (even if only implicitly), distanced himself from the actions of those he himself had convinced to go and “stop the steal”, and promised to punish them all swiftly and severely. True to form, he was happy to let others take the fall for him, and did nothing for the rioters. His last day in power came and went, and he didn’t use his pardon power to benefit any of the accused. Now that they were no longer useful, he wasn’t even willing to sacrifice his political capital for those who had made the grave mistake of believing in him.
When Jon’s presence became widely known, anyone who had any kind of public relationship with him tried to either distance themselves, or stay quiet and hope that nobody would ask any questions. Despite originally appearing to celebrate the riots (which would be in line with his apparent subservience to Jon), Stu Block quickly backpedaled and condemned them. The rest of the band (except for drummer Brent Smedley) soon followed suit, and publicly quit Iced Earth. Trying to do some damage control, Hansi Kürsch, the singer of Blind Guardian, and one of Jon’s closest friends, also condemned what happened, first through Blind Guardian, and then by publicly announcing that he would no longer work with Jon on Demons & Wizards. Even Tim “Ripper” Owens, who Schaffer had fired over a decade ago, found himself having to answer questions from angry fans who now considered Jon to be a terrorist, or even a white nationalist.
Century Media, Jon’s long-time label, stayed quiet about the situation. Since they had quickly removed all of Jon’s bands from their website, many assumed that this meant that the label was dropping him. But neither Demons & Wizards nor Iced Earth were under contract with Century Media, and Jon was very public about having abandoned what he called the “slavery model“ imposed by record labels. Though the label had licensed both Demons & Wizards’ III, and Iced Earth’s Incorruptible, people close to the matter confirmed that both bands had been free agents at the time. Nevertheless, with a simple performative cleanup of their website, the same label that had embraced and endorsed Sons of Liberty, now pretended that they had nothing to do with Jon.
Though the head of the Oath Keepers had claimed that things would get “bloody” if Trump didn’t stop Biden from taking power, that bravado fizzled away the moment serious charges started to be filed. Even the Indiana chapter of the Oath Keepers said that Jon was not a member of their organization. Though this appears to be technically true, since apparently Jon got his membership years ago by donating to the National Oath Keepers and not the Indiana chapter, it seems like a very questionable way to create distance. As for the national organization, they have largely remained quiet, which might be related to the fact that their leader is himself under investigation.
This is not to say that Jon doesn’t have any supporters left. There are those who believe that, in reality, he did nothing wrong. Either because they are diehard fans, or because they believe in the same nonsense as him, some see his actions as beyond reproach. For some of them, like Iced Earth’s former drummer (who hilariously threatened to kill me after I first spoke publicly about Jon’s radicalization), “cucks” and “pussies” are the only ones criticizing what a conartist President got his deluded supporters to believe and to do.
A couple of days before the end of Trump’s presidency, on January 18th, Jon unceremoniously surrendered to the FBI. There was no blaze of glory, and no survival in the wild, just a meek surrender. Since then, he has been incarcerated in Indiana, awaiting to be extradited to DC. On March 15th, he spent his 53rd birthday behind bars, being transported from one jail to another, although it is unclear where he is currently incarcerated, or when the extradition will finally take place. At a hearing on March 19th, Jon’s attorney (a relatively famous one in libertarian circles) requested that the charges be dismissed, presenting Jon as victim of Trump’s lies. Though he alleged that Jon was not a member of the Oath Keepers, that he had only been at the Capitol for 60 seconds, and that he was remorseful of his actions, the Judge was unmoved. Jon’s comments about his willingness to engage in violence, and his hatred of Them, had caught up to him. The judge ruled that he represented a danger to the community, ordering him to remain in custody.
The Capitol riots have become an excuse to push for many of the kind of things that came after 9/11. The militarization of American cities, restrictions of civil liberties, censorship by tech companies, and a narrative that justifies everything as long as the enemy is ultimately destroyed, are all very familiar. To many, even commentators on the left, the blanket “fascist threat” can be abused in much the same ways as the blanket “terrorist threat” was (and continues to be) abused in the War on Terror. In what is perhaps the ultimate irony, this has inspired some to believe that the riots were actually a false-flag operation, carried out by Antifa.
They had been behind the riots. Maybe Jon was a sleeper ANTIFA agent, or maybe a crisis actor. And maybe Trump was in on it too! After all, he even got vaccinated.
Update: April 16, 2021. Jon pleaded guilty to two counts, and the prosecution has agreed to ask for a prison term of anywhere between 3.5 and 4.5 years of imprisonment. The press release from the DOJ can be read here.